Today childhood obesity is the most common nutritional disorder affecting children and teens (Peters, 2009). Obesity is not just being overweight; it can contribute to a risk of strokes, heart disease, type II diabetes, cancers and arthritis (McVeigh, 2009). With over 1.6 million children overweight in Canada, obesity rates in children is climbing at an alarming rate (Hodges, 2003). Experts warn if a child is obese at the age of six there is a 50 percent chance they will be obese as an adult. If the child is still obese at the age of ten there is a 80 percent chance obesity will follow them to adulthood as well. Unlike adults children’s body’s are still growing so predicting if a child is obese can be difficult. A standard measurement tool is body mass index ( BMI ), this is a ratio of height and weight (Silva, 2003) . A child is overweight if they fall into the 85 percentile and is obese if they fall into the 95 percentile (Silva, 2003).Children are becoming more overweight than ever, and experiencing severe health issues that can be deadly for a young child.
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This alarming increase is due to the temptations of advertising through the media that targets the vulnerable minds of both children and parents. Parents teach their children how to behave when they are older, and give them skills they will carry into their adult years. Both parents and children need to ignore the endless amounts of advertising and pressure so as not to fall into the trap of unhealthy eating and realize the health risks fast food and sugar snacks are creating. It is important to keep in mind that there are factors such as money and environment that make it difficult for a family to eat healthy. The result is fast foods and prepared foods become an attractive option due to taste and price. Parenting can influence unhealthy habits, but the school systems are just as guilty by providing an environment filled with vending machines and lack of physical exercise. With the growing number of children being overweight in Canada it is time for society to stop pointing the finger and realize that everyone needs to pull together and stop this epidemic.
As a child develops their thoughts, attitudes, and perceptions are vulnerable and easily influenced, especially by the media. The media uses songs, colours, and celebrities to grab the attention of the minds of children. Marketing can have a lasting effect on a child’s behaviour and decisions as they grow up throughout their lives (Ruskin, 2003). The main advertising tool to reach children is the television. The television is literally making children gain weight. With watching endless amounts of television a child is loosing active play time, adding more inactivity to their life. With the average American child watching 19 hours and 40 min of television per week, they are getting a constant exposure to junk and fast food (Ruskin, 2003). During a half hour children’s show on YTV between 5:00 – 5:30 there were 13 commercials ranging from fast food, sugar drinks, and unhealthy snacks that bombarded the screen. When these numbers are calculated together, it means that over the span of a week a child can be viewing over 500 commercials just about food alone. In 1978 the Federal Trade Commission concluded that “the largest single part of the television advertising addressed specifically to children is for sugared foods” (Ruskin, 2003). Advertisers know that children are innocent beings and take advantage of their lack of knowledge to comprehend the true ’meaning’ of commercials and advertisements. With skinny celebrities and fun exciting experiences involved with unhealthy food advertisements it is difficult, especially for young children to know what is right, true, and good for them. Unfortunately, advertising this unhealthy food is everywhere in the child’s sight and large companies take advantage of children’s televisions shows to sell and promote their products. 80% of commercials on children’s televisions shows are for junk food (Regulatory intelligence, 1998).Large cooperation’s are using every opportunity to sell their product to children. Junk foods are now featured in children’s books, such as Hershey’s chocolates, M&M’s, Froot Loops, Reese’s Pieces, Oreo cookies, and Skittles (Ruskin, 2003). Story time is now even a gateway to sell products to children. Advertising is always pulling children to unhealthy foods and snacks.
Restaurants and the fast food industries have made their products desirable to kids through mainly toys and colouring. Between 1995-1997 the percentage of meals and snacks eaten at fast food restaurants doubled (Ruskin, 2003). This increase is due to the change in our society and lifestyles. Fast pace living is the way we function and because of this lifestyle change in our society, individuals now resort to fast food to keep up. Sadly, children are victims of this fast pace lifestyle and are learning that quick food, is good food. In Burger King, McDonalds, and Dairy Queen, every single child menu is at the visible height for a child, using toys to get the child’s attention. Although fast food has tried to change the kids menus and create healthier choices, the meal is ultimately the choice of the child. From burgers, chicken nuggets, macaroni, and hot dogs children are eating high amounts of high salt, sugar, and saturated fats. In the international journal of obesity children who ate fast food three times during the previous week, opposed to those who did not had way higher calorie intakes, up to 40% higher(Ruskin, 2003). Children are naturally attracted to toys and “fun” food. When restaurants have colouring pages for a child they naturally enjoy the place where they are eating. Boston Pizza for example offers a kids “fun pack” along with a menu that ranges from “bugs and cheese” to “BP kids cheeseburgers” with a side of fries. Both of these meals can add up to 32 grams of fat and just over 680 calories. Add a sugary pop and ice cream for dessert and a child can consume up to 900 calories and 40 grams of fat in one sitting. The scariest part of these meals is that they can have up to 1,030 mg of sodium which is almost exceeding half of the recommended amount for children.
Children spend about 8 hours at school in one day. School is where children grow and learn to communicate. Spending as much time in this institution as they do will continually have an influence on a child’s attitudes and behaviours for the rest of their lives. Students within schools need to be given the opportunity to be taught and practice healthy living. The curriculum in schools has changed with more focus on ’academic time’ oppose to other activities. In the 1920s, as a part of the home economics movement, millions of school children were taught about proper nutrition and which foods contained the nutrients they needed to grow (Ruskin, 2003). Nutrition is completely ignored within the Elementary school systems today with no opportunity for young children to learn about nutrition.
Something as simple as exercise can be very beneficial to a child’s health and way of life for the future. It is proved that the lack of physical exercise and activity is the number one reason for the increase in obesity (Regulatory intelligence, 1998). Something as simple as recess should be engaging children in physical exercise in order to help maintain a healthy weight. Lately recess time is taking a back seat at schools. Children should not have such a valuable social and physical activity taken from them. Physical activity is just as important as Math or English, and the school systems should know this. Physical activity needs to play an important role in the lives of our children, and the school as a social and educational physicality, need to provide the proper time and opportunity for exercise. Physical activity classes should be held everyday. Schools are now pushing physical activity classes down to only three times a week. When asked a teacher at local Elementary school Frenchman’s Bay, how often do the students receive physical education classes aside from recess the answer was only three 45minute classes a week. If children are given time to play, and run around, they will actually be far more productive within the classroom. In a growing number of studies, diminished opportunities for outdoor playtime have been linked with school difficulties, increased childhood anxiety, disconnection from nature, attention deficit disorder, and the epidemic of childhood obesity (Gross-Loh, 2007). School systems should know that the lack of physical activity is closely tied with the growing increase of obesity. The schools should be providing physical activity for young children on a daily bases. Researchers believe that giving kindergartens at least 5 hours of physical activity a week could reduce obesity by 43% (Childhood obesity, 2004)The school system at present is a large part to blame when it comes to the growing epidemic for childhood obesity. Children remain as easily malleable individuals who can easily be taught good habits and schools should give children the tools to be successful both academically and physically.
Children need to be given the right tools to learn to eat and live a healthy lifestyle. Schools offering vending machines at every corner, pizza days, tuck shops, hot dogs, are not helpful for children. Spirit days, and ‘fun’ events held at schools are always accompanied by hot dogs, pizza, and popsicles. This unhealthy food is again being re enforced in the school system that it is ‘fun’ and an enjoyment to eat. Temptations children experience at school regarding food, may also be encouraged by the school environment. Although some schools do offer a healthy lunch in the cafeterias, some do not have a cafeteria at all. Children who do not receive a healthy lunch from their parents or the school, the alternative is to purchase sugar drinks, soft drinks, and unhealthy snacks from the vending machines. 60% of all elementary schools have a vending machine and 19 out of 20 high schools have a vending machine(Ruskin, 2003). The schools are contributing to the temptation of eating unhealthy foods, and are not helping to educate children on healthy choices.
When observing a classroom of grade three children in a local public school the amount of snacks, and sodas that were found in the lunches was upsetting. The high sugar juices and pops that were found in over 78% of the children’s lunches can range up 25 grams of sugar in just one drink. According to a study , for each can of soda drunk each day, a child is 1.6 times more likely to become obese ( Ruskin, 2003). When asked the students who had these sugary drinks how many they would consume in one day the average answer was almost up to three, this can add up to almost over 75 grams of sugar in one day in drinks alone. In supporting research it was found that two thirds of boys drink three cans of soda a day, while two thirds of girls drink two (Regulatory intelligence, 1998).Parents are providing too many empty calories for their children, packing them unhealthy lunchables, dunkaroos, cookies, and chocolate are filled in the many lunch bags of students. If children are not physically active and are consuming this junk food, their weight and health is going to suffer. From 1977 to 2006, American children have added 168 snack calories per day to their diets; a study finds (Healy, 2010). This increase in snacks is adding to a child’s waist line, along with inactivity children are becoming heavier more than ever before.
Children are snacking large amounts of unhealthy calories rather than eating full balanced meals which is effecting their health. Parents need to understand that teaching healthy eating habits is an important goal to obtain.
It is easy to point the finger at the parents because the parents are the ones who provide for the child, but society needs to take into account the other issues a family may face regarding food availability and choice. There is no doubt that healthier, fresh food is more expensive then unhealthy packaged food. Some families are unable to provide fresh food for their children. Children are helpless with the type of food their parents and family provides for them. The socioeconomic level of a family makes it difficult to provide fresh, healthy food for a child. Research done by New York University found that neighbourhoods with decreased economic and social resources have higher rates of obesity. They also found that residents in low-income urban areas are more likely to report greater neighbourhood barriers to physical activity, such as limited opportunities for daily walking or physical activity and reduced access to stores that sell healthy foods, especially large supermarkets. (Blythman, 2004). Low income areas have less access to parks and healthy food. In low income areas such as The cheap food is high in carbohydrates, sugar, salt, and is not fresh. Not having the access to healthy foods makes it nearly impossible for a child to learn and grow up with healthy food choices. Grocery stores built in high income living areas offer a fresher selection, and healthier foods, where as grocery stores in low income areas carry cheap unhealthy foods in bulk. Parents do not have a choice, when you need to feed your family you buy food that will fill them up and what you can afford. Typically lots of cheap food is not healthy for anyone, let alone a growing child who needs a wide range of healthy foods to grow properly. For a low income family fast food restaurants offer lots of cheap food that will keep them full. A family wants to fill there child, and the healthy benefits are not a top priority. In low income areas such as Rexdale in Toronto the amount of fast food restaurants within walking distance of residence is a large difference compared to higher income areas such as Leadside. Companies know their food is cheap, and are going to provide their food to their most valued consumers.
If the environment of a child is poor, then their healthy is likely to be poor. Lack of sidewalks, bike paths, and recreational areas in some communities discourages physical activity and contributes to obesity (Hood, 2005). In a year 2007 survey it was found the highest rates of overweight or obesity in kids who were black (41.1%), Spanish-speaking Hispanic (45%), living below the poverty level (44.8%), publicly insured (43.2%) and those who did not participate in activities outside of school (40.3%) (Adams,2010). Buying healthy food is expensive and there is prevalence of obesity between lower income families, and minorities. The future looks dim for children who now have to live with health risk of obesity along with poverty.
Children learn from example and mimic what they witness from their parents. Beginning from a young age, children form their eating habits and learn either unhealthy or healthy habits. A child’s appetite for sweet drinks, salty snacks, and junk food is established before school age (Rigby, 2004). This early age is critical for parents to inform their children about healthy eating, or provide them with healthy foods. At a young age a child’s appetite cues can be skewed if parents use food as rewards (Hodges, 2003). A parent needs to understand that what they teach a child about hunger and food will be throughout their child’s life time. If a parent is inactive, it is likely a child will be inactive; if a parent eats unhealthy it is likely their child will. Parents, who eat unhealthy, skip breakfast, and snack continuously are likely going to pass those habits onto their children. Parents are simply setting a bad example when it comes to eating habits and exercise. Children aged four to seven whose parents were physically active were nearly six times as likely to be physically active compared to peers whose parents were not physically active (Hodges, 2003). As a family parents need to guide children through healthy eating and physical activity routines, oppose to dieting or just eating less. The parents provide the money for the lunches, vending machines, and provide the meals a child will consume. If children are exposed to this unhealthy food they are going to eat it. If parents do not provide the soda, snacks, and pre packaged food children are not going to eat it. Parents are lazy when it comes to feeding their children, and have lost the desire to prepare meals, which is important to create a balanced diet for their family. Busy work schedules have made eating a fast pace event where the child is the victim. With both parents working, children are left to fend for themselves after school, and typically consume unhealthy, easy to make foods. When it comes to the dinner table, typically parents will tell kids to eat everything on their plate, yet our plate sizes have grown over the last decades to more than the proper portion size (Peters, 2009). With servings growing at home and in restaurants we are simply over feeding our children. Some parents do not understand that they are doing harm to their child, and are even blind to see the effects that the food is doing. Out of 99 mothers who had overweight children, 79% of them failed to identify that their child was overweight (Hodges, 2003). The parents need to adjust their perception on what is considered overweight, and educate themselves on proper eating for their child. Parents should not be providing the large packs of soda, snacks, and sugar because they are simply teaching their child it is okay to have this unhealthy food on a regular basis. Children become helpless when they are not given the proper opportunity to live a healthy lifestyle, which they deserve from their parents who are their closest mentors.
There is many misconceptions on childhood obesity, and who is truly to blame for this epidemic.Children are helpless in this battle to maintain and create a healthy weight for themselves alone. The truth is, society needs to understand that children are the adults of the future. What parents and society teaches children will carry out into the future and will shape communities to come. Obese children can maintain a new weight much easier than obese adults (Ruskin, 2003). There is no need for a child to be overweight their entire life, there should be more encouragement to help communities, families, and organizations to put an end to childhood obesity. Children need to be inspired to live a better life style and know that physically they are able to change. With proper knowledge children can learn to ignore the temping encouragement to eat unhealthy snacks and fast food, and can become independent thinkers and make the right decisions. The government needs to understand that innocent lives are being shortened due to the high consumption of fast food, and unhealthy food. With the help of our government large cooperation’s can be stopped from attacking young children’s lives. Exciting, our society is slowly making change, starting in the schools by getting rid of vending machines. Finding effective methods to combat the epidemic of child obesity will come with the help of the government, parents, and social institutions.
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